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    March 25, 2024

    Diversity, Women, & Leadership

    Moving more women into top leadership positions continues to be a challenge but is particularly difficult for women from diverse backgrounds. Only 1 in 20 C-Suite leaders is a woman of color. Of the 26% of women in the C-suite, just 5% of those leaders are women of color.

    • The participation rates of African American women in leadership positions were lower than their participation in the Federal workforce. African American women accounted for 10.4% of supervisors, 9.6% of managers, and 7.3% of executives.
    • In 2021, Latina women held 4.3% of leadership positions, in comparison to a share of 32.6% held by white women (Catalyst, 2023; U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022)
    • A study published by SSRN in 2023 showed that 44% of the total participants had no women with disabilities in management positions.

    Tokenization is still a major issue for women from diverse backgrounds moving into leadership. Often having one woman from a diverse background is considered enough. 

    However, the expectations are not just for being responsible for business development, developing strategy, people management, vision setting, and the usual responsibilities of a leader. They are often expected to be the spokesperson for their diversity group and expected to address those inequities in the organization. These women are the only women of color or one of a few in the organization, and the team they work with is often not that diverse. So not only are these women isolated in their leadership, they are expected to perform major changes around diversity in an unrealistic timeline.

    Inherited leadership style can also be a barrier. Women diversity leaders are put into positions following the leadership of long-tenured male or white or a combination of both white and male leaders. Unless their predecessors were more self-aware individuals, their leadership style was more likely to be patriarchal and have what would be viewed as white dominant characteristics. This style of leadership may not be how women of color or diversity lead. Because the work culture may perpetuate particular leadership styles, it gets in the way of how women from diverse backgrounds are seeking to create positive disruption.

    Like their white female counterparts, getting adequate support continues to be an issue. Some surveys have shown that requests for support for learning and growth for leaders are often not given priority or are outright denied. They may not be given the same access to coaching, the opportunity to attend key conferences, get needed training, or be provided with enough support staff. An additional challenge is being continuously questioned or even undermined by white staff and board members.

    There are specific ways organizations can start to help more women from diverse backgrounds succeed in getting them into management and higher leadership roles.

    • Make sure your company thoroughly reviews job descriptions, salaries, and contracts through a lens of racial and gender equity. Don’t add anything to job descriptions that isn’t required by the full staff and leadership team, e.g., diversity, equity, and inclusion work, organizational development, and culture building. 
    • Look at compensation ranges being considered to make sure they align with their male counterparts. Make it transparent in the job posting. Don’t ask about the previous salary in the hiring process because 100% of the time women of color and diversity applicants have historically been underpaid. 
    • Review benefits packages for potential candidates who are women from diverse backgrounds. They should include a professional development fund that is flexible and at the discretion of the leader to use as they see fit. Be sure to include, at a minimum, the cost of at least a full year of coaching and leadership training/conference with travel expenses. 
    • Make sure the person being hired into leadership has the budget to hire their own full-time administrative support person. 
    • During the hiring process discuss their leadership style, what they need to be successful at your organization, and what have been current and historical challenges in the organization. This will allow the leader candidate to get a better idea of their fit with the team they will be working with and your work culture. 
    • It is also important for the board and hiring team to understand any biases or outdated styles of leadership that exist that can contribute to harmful patterns of behavior that can set them up for failure.

    Representation at all levels does make a difference. New generations of leaders are inspired by seeing women of color and diverse backgrounds in leadership roles. It means they see a path for themselves and highly value diversity, equity, and inclusion in the companies they work for.

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